But I thought 'Naw forget it, yo homes to Bel Air'
Trip Start Mar 13, 2010
45Trip End Feb 13, 2011
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Fittingly, our first few hours in the USA were spent in a Starbucks in LAX, an experience which had Mark feeling more like a fish out of water than at many other points in our trip, which considering he had been asked to slaughter a goat more than 10 months before is really saying something! After I had coaxed him through the cappuccino, frappacino, de-caff, half fat macciatto nightmare of ordering we settled down to await the arrival of our friends from home who were coming to join us for the last two weeks of trip.
We were still accompanied by Ross, the guy we had met in The Cook Islands who was now going to join us in our Hostel, and later we were due to pick up a certain Dutch lady who we met in Africa
After what seemed like a looooong wait due to too much in-flight film watching on the overnight flight, we finally saw a flight from Heathrow on the arrival board and along came our three friends Kate, Leila and Donnie. It had been around 10 months since we'd last seen each other and they were a sight for sore eyes! After a heartfelt reunion, and an unexpected (on their parts) but gracefully welcomed introduction to our 'plus-one' Ross, we headed off to pick up our hire car and start the road trip to end our almost year long journey.
Our wheels were in the form of a massive grey mini-van with air con and a great sound system so spirits were at an all-time high as we pulled out the car rental place and headed toward the city. After checking in to our respective hostels/hotels we had a few hours to kill before we needed to pick up Esmerelda (our Dutch friend) from the airport so we headed to the Griffith Observatory for some dinner and our first view of those famous hills (the first of many recommended events on a painstakingly researched itinerary by Leila - which whilst heavily mocked, was also much appreciated as she really helped us see things we never would have thought of otherwise)
The next morning we got up early, as we were all keen to make the most of our few days in El Lay. We visited an amazing Audrey Hepburn themed cafe just off of Hollywood Boulevard for breakfast (another Leila find) and then it was straight down to business - a STAR HOMES TOUR!
We drove down Hollywood Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard and even into The Hills. We got to see lots of celebrity homes, famous haunts and even a few buildings used in films and television (any child of the nineties will recognise a certain white Bel Air mansion from the photos below.) We even got to see a few celebrities - Nick Hilton and Gerard Butler who both sportingly waved to us as we sat conspicuously in our white open topped STAR TOURS mini bus. The tour was as cheesy as you would imagine and absolutely hilarious thanks to our brilliant guide. As a dedicated follower of pop culture, I was always going to love it but I have it on good authority that even the less celeb-aware passengers found it fun.
That afternoon we visited Graumans Chinese Theater where we got to place our hands in the famous imprints outside. That was really the first time I got a sense of the history of Hollywood and a real sense that I was standing (literally) in the footsteps of these famous people that have influenced generations across the globe
That afternoon we also went on a tour of The Kodak Theater, where the Oscars are held. As it turned out we ended up getting a private tour as no one else was in our time slot which was great as we struck gold with another amazing tour guide. We saw a real Oscar, heard the story of how the award got its name, saw backstage photos and even got to step out on to the stage (which was ENORMOUS). It was great to hear some of the behind the scenes organisation that's done such as having "seat warmers" on standby to fill any spaces when people get up to accept their awards so that empty seats aren't seen on television.
After an intense day of celebrity culture overload, which was rounded off by a stroll down the Hollywood Walk of Fame, we recovered with some over-sized pizza in a fabulously American grubby cafe. (There was even a 'ball' game on one of the old square TVs which hung on a bracket in the corner of the formica clad seating area).
The next day we drove to the Warner Brother Studios where we had booked a VIP tour. Once again our group had a tour all to ourselves which was just as well, because from the introductory video montage of famous WB movies we were excitable and raucous. The hype only heightened once we mounted our white golf buggie driven by our hilarious guide Cheryl and we set off down into the fake streets of the studios.
We drove down streets lined with buildings, you'll see how realistic they are from the photos below, and I can assure you they were no less convincing up close, but they are all just fronts - we even tried opening the doors of a few and looking inside only to see a two meter square blank floorspace where the actors can walk out from
I couldn't even begin to list all of the famous sets we drove past. From shops featured in Gremlins, to the alleyway from Spiderman, to the area where they filmed the T-Rex scene in Jurassic Park! (Which is actually just a small, dirt access road between lots). Before the tour I would have thought that seeing behind the scenes would make me disillusioned towards these films I know so well, like learning how a magician does his tricks, but it actually gave me a new-found respect for the production and insane amount of hard work that goes into making a movie.
After seeing the outdoor sets we then visited the vast props department, and hidden away in this warehouse of lamps, furniture, odds and ends was the set of a very famous 'insomnia cafe' - if you look at the photos below, you might recognise it! You'll also see the sheer joy on all our faces!!!
The tour was incredible and so much fun. We didn't stop cheering and laughing the whole time. (Except for a minute or two of silence as we drove nonchalantly past one of the cast of The Big Bang Theory and tried to play it cool).
As luck would have it (well, Leila's planning actually) we got to see even more of said Big Bang Theory actor as we were back in the studios that evening as members of the live audience watching them film an episode
Unfortunately we don't have any pictures as cameras were banned (for obvious reasons) but it was very exciting, if a little long-winded! I think in all we were there for around 3 hours, the episode was genuinely funny and it was fascinating to see it acted out live before us, although it did become slightly tedious on a third or fourth take when we were required to laugh at the same jokes each time(!) In between takes there was a particularly embarrassing, non-funny compare whose job it was to keep us all awake and jovial. His techniques varied from bad-jokes to audience participation - in fact, one thing led to another, and at one point I ended up rapping Vanilla Ice to the entire audience with nothing but a French guy beat-boxing for support.
We also got free pizza and sweets, in fact a few of the people sitting next to me seemed to be regulars. It would seem a Tuesday night out for Hollywood locals is a little different to back home(!)
And even after all of this amazing stuff, there was still more to come...